Zionsville Times Sentinel

October 2, 2013

Keys to healthy communication

By Tess Worrell
For the Times Sentinel

— Let’s face it — sometimes we say the wrong thing. Our husband arrives home an hour late, and we snap — before we discover he was helping a stranded old lady by the side of the highway. Our child fails to clean her room and we come unglued — before we discover she forgot because her best friend is moving away.

In our anger, we lash out. In our frustration, we resort to sarcasm. In our insecurity, we make presumptions about what the other person is thinking. The good news is those in the healthiest relationships commit these relationship no-no’s. According to Dr. John Gottman, “It is a misconception that communication ought to be the norm in relationships. What may matter most is the ability of couples to repair things when they go wrong.” The Science of Trust.

So, the key to healthy families isn’t perfect communication. The key is being able to repair the mistakes. Healthy families develop habits that get helpful communication back on track after busyness, misunderstanding or selfishness has caused us to veer off. We can start with these:

Offer five positive statements for every negative — even during disagreements. Dr. Gottman’s research found that couples need to have a 5-1 ratio of positive statements to negative in all their communication, including disagreements. Note: This allows for negative statements. Sometimes we have to share a hard truth with our spouse or children. The key is that those negative statements come in the context of an overwhelmingly positive interaction.

Thus, in a conflict we respond to family members by listening to what they say, then finding what we can affirm. Use affirming statements, humor and empathy five times more often than going negative, and you’ll build the relationship.

See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.